Rica with Kids
The New Key to Costa Rica's author on where to go
"I heard a long, clear call, and followed it to where it came from.
We saw a quetzal sitting on a vine. The light slanting down through the
trees made its feathers seem iridescent blue, and its long tail feathers
swung in the breeze."
The sacred bird of the Mayans had appeared
majestically before my daughter, Elizabeth and my son, Danny, on a hike
in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve. It was one of many magical moments
we shared on our two-week trip to Costa Rica.
Costa Rica is a great place to travel with kids. The people are friendly
and have a warm, accepting attitude toward children.
Costa Rica's long
tradition of democracy, public education, nationalized health care and
its decision to abolish its army in 1948 all work together to make this
small, beautiful country a safe place for children to visit.
Our family spent six months in Monteverde when the kids were seven and
nine. They attended the Friends School there and loved hiking through
the cloud forest on their way to class.
Danny is now a quick, sure-footed,
perceptive thirteen-year-old who traces his prowess in soccer to his early
years in Costa Rica. He loves animals and anything that goes fast, so
he was looking forward to the Sky Trek in Monteverde, one of the longest
and highest zip-line rides in the country. Elizabeth is a willowy eleven-year-old
with a unique blend of sensitivity and fire. She adores animals and was
looking forward to seeing the dolphins in Drake Bay.
Glimpses of Lava
Our first stop was La Fortuna de San Carlos. As we arrived at night, the
kids got glimpses of molten lava flowing down the sides of Arenal Volcano
before it disappeared behind a thick gray cloud. In the morning we saw
the mountain send out a billowing column of smoke and ash before it disappeared
again. Since the volcano was hiding in the fog, we decided to take Sunset
Tours' Safari Float.
We glided silently down the green Penas Blancas River
in rubber rafts, stopping to watch monkeys and birds in the trees. The
kids were surprised at the number of sloths we observed (six), and even
spotted some of them before our guides did.
Even though it was the rainy
season, only a light shower sprinkled us along the way, and we soon dried
off in the warm breeze. After an hour and a half of gentle floating, we
stopped and climbed up a trail carved into the riverbank. Our guide showed
us a tiny red and indigo poison dart frog. We then climbed a path cut
into the riverbank to Don Pedro's farmhouse.
Don Pedro is a man in his eighties who has lived by the river all his
life. He canoes and walks to get into town, lives without electricity,
and likes it that way. Our tour guides revered him as a symbol of everything
that is important in the Costa Rican character.
Elizabeth was fascinated
to see how Don Pedro and his family lived from the fruit, grains and livestock
they raised themselves, and Danny was inspired when he heard that Don
Pedro had been offered a fortune for the remaining virgin forest on his
farm, and had refused to sell.
Don Pedro's daughters served us their homemade
cheese with tortillas, coffee and other treats. We stopped by the kitchen
to thank them as we left and they embraced us and gave us a fragrant gardenia
to sniff on the way back. It was a memorable afternoon.
We finished the day at Tabacon Hot Springs, where the kids zoomed down
the warm waterslide, alternating with dips in a cool pool, and I found
a hot waterfall to massage my shoulders and back.
Flight to Palmar Sur
Our next destination was Drake Bay on the Osa Peninsula. After a night
in San Jose, we arose early to catch a flight to Palmar Sur. Soon we were
stepping on the wing to enter our five-passenger plane. Our pilot inspired
confidence with his starched shirt and gold epaulets, and Danny was excited
to be so close to the pilot and the controls.
Both kids enjoyed flying
at a lower altitude than usual, so they could actually see the lines of
waves moving slowly toward the shoreline. We landed gratefully in about
half an hour in Palmar Sur, and took a taxi to Sierpe, a sleepy river
port, where we boarded a canopied motorboat. We sped down the wide Sierpe
river, dodging an occasional crocodile, then slowed for a trip through
a narrow channel in a mangrove swamp.
After an hour we arrived at the
river mouth, where our boat had to cross the breakers to get us into the
open sea. Life jackets were handed out, and the captain waited for the
right moment to chug through the waves. We made the crossing without any
trouble, and rounded the point into beautiful Drake Bay.
The kids loved their lofty second-story room at La Paloma Lodge. There
were no glass windows, just varnished wooden shutters that opened the
front of the room to cecropia trees full of friendly toucans, hummingbirds
and songbirds. Mosquito nets over their beds kept the night bugs awaymainly
moths and june-bugs.
The kids marveled at the warmth of the ocean while
they boogie-boarded in a small cove near the hotel; later they enjoyed
the pristine tiled swimming pool with a view. They saw a baby sloth in
a nearby tree, and white-faced monkeys threw twigs and moss at them. Tracy
the Bug Lady stopped by one evening and showed them how to hold a flashlight
at eye-level so that they could see the eye-shine of toads and spiders.
The kids appreciated how Nicole, the manager of La Paloma, was open to
arranging special activities for them, and served them tropical fruit
smoothies in the afternoons.
We went snorkeling at Isla del Caño, and learned about the history
of the island from our knowledgeable guide, Miguel. In the water, he kept
the children close to him and made sure they were safe. They saw many
beautiful fish, and a manta ray that jumped six feet in the air and did
Searching for Dolphins
day we went in search of dolphins with Delfin Amor. Sierra, the owner,
let Danny and Elizabeth sit on the bow of the boat where they could get
a good view of the huge pod we encountered. Elizabeth says, "I loved
seeing the dolphins jump up ahead of usthey were so happy!"
Our last stop was Monteverde, where the kids couldn't wait to do the Sky
Trek. When they were
seven and nine they had gone on the Monteverde Original Canopy Tour, which
starts with a climb straight up inside a hollow strangler fig tree and
ends with a rapelle 75 feet down.
Danny described the Sky Trek. "You
get harnessed up, then walk up at 500-foot spiral staircase. The guides
hand you a pulley, and show you how to use it and that it's safe. You
start out with two short, slow cable rides. They get longer and higher
as you go, until you get to #8. There you hike a little way, climb up
another tower and go on a 1500-foot cable across a gorge 500 feet below.
It was exhilarating! Definitely not for those afraid of heights! The guides
tell you what you're in for. They warn you. But after the first cable
you can't turn back."
I must admit that the Canopy Tour and Sky Trek are not my idea of fun,
so the kids went with their adventurous Aunt Mary and I went on the more
sedate Sky Walk, a lovely hike on well-tended trails and hanging bridges
through a gorgeous private reserve.
On our way down the bumpy road from Monteverde, we saw a huge rainbow
spanning the valley below us. It was so magnificent that the bus driver
stopped to let everyone take pictures. Even after we started down again,
the rainbow remained bright and beautiful--a perfect finale to our Costa
Blake is the author of The New Key to Costa Rica, now in its
15th edition. See keytocostarica.com.
For more ideas, lodgings, restaurants and kid-friendly Costa Rican destinations,
see additional article here
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